Back in 2008 when Jake and I started into the international adoption process I had the mindset that we would be adopting an orphan that was currently living his/her life out in an orphanage. I pictured our child to have been completely abandoned by birthparents – left on the streets, or a child who’s mother and father had died. But when the Lord changed our adoption route from Ethiopia to Ghana I realized that my thinking was very green and unexperienced. Over time I came to understand that you can’t lump together all African adoptions into the same mold. Each country is SO DIFFERENT. In some countries birthfamilies aren’t allowed (legally) to relinquish their children so their only choice is abandonment. Other countries have sophisticated orphanages where birthmothers are allowed to leave their child in the orphanage’s hands (some birthmothers intend to come back for their child when they are older, others sign the ‘termination of rights’ right then and there which makes their child available for adoption). Some war-torn countries have experienced such violence that children are literally plucked from the ruins, and there is no knowledge of whether their birthparents are living or dead.
Not trying to generalize here, but it has been our experience that Ghana adoption is somewhat different than any of the above scenarios. There are certainly those situations that come along in Ghana where a child has been abandoned or completely neglected. More commonly, if a child is orphaned by the death or abandonment of their parent, it is seen as proper duty for immediate relatives to take responsibility for the child and care for them. Esi has told me many times that you would be hard-pressed to find a family in Ghana that doesn’t have a neice, nephew, extended family member, etc. living with them. It is quite common. But of course, there are those impoverished living situations which are so desperate, and proper care cannot be given to a child. In other countries, these situations are those in which a child could be taken to an orphanage. In Ghana, however, this is where a birthfamily (or surviving relatives) get to be intricately involved in making an adoption plan for their child. Those families who are in desperate situations are educated about adoption by a social worker. From there the birthfamily or surviving relatives must meet with social welfare in order that the investigation and proper paperwork processing can begin.
The Ghanaian adoption process of involving the birthfamily (or surviving relatives of a child) is so different than what I had originally pictured international adoption to be. In fact, even recently I was struggling with a lie circling in my mind - that because international adoptions in Ghana often happen right out of birthfamilies they appear to be less needed than adoptions in other countries (nobody else has said this, I just came up with this in my own mind). I had been hearing so many horrific stories out of Uganda and Sudan about orphans being abandoned and literally having no one and it caused me to start weighing where the most need was. I began to wonder if we were in the right place. I ended up emailing our Ghana adoption coordinator about it because I couldn’t see straight. An excerpt from her reply -
‘Honestly, I don't think of orphaned children in terms of "more needy" or "less needy." I don't think the children in Ghana are in any less need of families than the children of Uganda, and I don't think the children in Eastern Europe are in any more need than the children in Uganda. These are all children who need families (or should be). There are horrible, depressing, sad stories of Ghanaian children. I've seen children whose legs are eaten away with disease simply because the family didn't have enough water to spare for even a bucket or cloth bath. I've seen 8 year olds the size of 3 year olds. I've seen my own son nearly starved to death, and I know they thought my daughter would die before she reached her 2nd day in Accra. I've watched helplessly as one of our kids died from AIDS because he was left too long on the streets before his father sought help. I'm currently watching another 2 children die of AIDS because the parents refuse to believe HIV/AIDS is real. These are all Ghanaian children, and I'm sure what I've seen only scratches the surface of what there is to see. There is no lack of need for the children of Ghana. Even if a child in our program was loved and has never gone hungry, that child is lacking a family--a basic human need. I've had families ask to adopt ONLY a "true" orphan, or only an orphan "from a really bad situation." That caused me to think about this stuff. Is a child any less of a true orphan if they happen to have living parents somewhere? That child still needs a family! Does a child that experienced severe malnutrition need a family more than a child who hasn't? No, not to me.'
Her words really spoke to me, and from there it was like the Lord has opened up an entirely new perspective for me on the HUGE advantages of birthfamilies being so involved in adoptions in Ghana. The biggest one is that the children have the privilege of knowing where they come from. They know their history. They know the details behind their adoption. Again, this is not true of every, single Ghanaian adoption, but for our family it will be.
That brings me to our girls. Four little sentences in their social investigation report say so much...
The girls' mother, ‘M’, is a “pure water” seller in (name of village). She makes a very meager living and is on the street all day. The girls have different fathers, both whom denied the pregnancy. ‘M’ has given her consent for her children to be adopted to offer better opportunities in life for them.
And the effects of their poverty clearly seen in the medical exams as both of our girls are malnourished (as Justice was) and it is said that for our littlest one it will be about 3 months of proper nutrition for her to start looking ‘normal’. Just to have these details, even knowing the specific village where our children are from, and where their birthfamily still lives, is just incredible. Once again, it makes an ‘open adoption’ possible. Our girl’s birthmother will never have to wonder what happened to her children. She wanted a better life for them, and she will get to SEE the desires of her heart answered, just as Justice’s birthmother will in about one week’s time.
There is something else that comes of adopting out of this sort of situation that I also didn’t realize until after Justice came home. That is that Justice did not struggle with the usual attachment issues that often come along with adoption, and that are a huge part of the adoption education/training. His adjustment into our family was actually quite smooth. I couldn’t really put my finger on why this was until we recently received our next phase of education paperwork from our agency (we had used a different agency with Justice’s adoption, so we didn’t receive this the first time around). Among some of the information we received upon being matched with our girls was this:
Some Observations Regarding Ghanaian Placements
This is not meant to “paint all Ghanaian children with the same brush.” Neither is it a result of a study or survey. It is, rather, an attempt to communicate some observations about adopted Ghanaian children and how these children as a group appear to have certain similarities. With years and years of adoption experience, we at AAI have found that one can often find patterns in the behaviors and attitudes of children who have shared a similar culture and/or experiential backgrounds.
Much of the current adoption literature on the market addresses two large groups of adoptees – Eastern European toddlers and children, and those adopted from the United States foster care system. These groups often share prenatal and postnatal experiences that predispose them to similar challenges in their new families. Typically, the advice tends to focus on parental control, very structured environments and effective ways of managing children’s rage and stress. There is also great emphasis (and much is needed) on attachment, abuse, neglect, prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs, and the psychological and cognitive problems experienced as a result of these issues.
However, most of the Ghanaian children do not fit this profile. It is apparent from the child histories collected from Ghana as well as from the stories of the older children themselves, that most of them had some experience with a loving, non-abusive birth family. Alcohol, though it certainly exists, does not seem to have the same hold on this culture as it does on others, and fetal alcohol effects have not been noted by families or physicians of Ghanaian children. In other words, children coming from Ghana appear as a group, to be much more intellectually and psychologically intact than children the same age coming from other environments.
What does this mean to a family parenting a child from Ghana? For one thing, it may mean that “tough” parenting often necessary for helping severely damaged children to thrive is not only unnecessary but could be counterproductive for a relatively emotionally intact Ghanaian child. This is not to minimize the grief they are experiencing as a result of losing loved ones and their familiar environment, but it does recognize a difference between “normal” grief and the personality problems caused by neurological damage and extreme, early neglect and abuse….
The article then goes on to list behaviors that are typical for Ghanaian children upon their homecoming (ALL of which Justice exhibited – some of them are a tad humorous to think back on now). As I read, I just continued to nod my head ‘yes’ the whole time. This literally was our exact experience with Justice. Of course there will always be exceptions, but when I read through this it was like I started to connect the dots in my mind of our experience thus far with Ghana adoption. WOW, was it ever powerful to receive this explanation, and this has made me even more grateful that Justice did spend his early years with his birthmother – not in an orphanage.
I am thankful for this new perspective that the Lord has given me on adopting out of a situation where a birthfamily is very involved in the adoption plan. I NEVER expected this out of international adoption, but once again I can see that the Lord has led our family to this country, and this type of adoption for a purpose!